Cutting edge in assistive tech

The rehabilitation centre uses assistive technology to help people with disabilities. December 3 is World Disability Day

A quaint (read: lavish) building in JP Nagar 2nd Phase has set the standards in the city for a design that is friendly to the differently-abled. A person on a wheelchair can go from the ground floor to the terrace without any help from anyone.

2019 marks the 25th year of Mobility India, a rehabilitation research and training centre. The aim of the institution has been to bring change in the lives of people with disabilities and their family members.

The history

When Metrolife visited Mobility India (MI), Albina Shankar, the director, was compiling all the achievements of the institution in the last 25 years.

She says, “MI started because there was a demand for rehabilitation services, especially in the rural areas. They had limited access and most often, they would have to come to the metro cities for help.” 

MI uses assistive technology and devices like walking sticks, crutches, wheelchairs, artificial limbs and so on.

Most of them, especially the elderly, don’t know that they can get devices according to their individual needs, activity, age and environment.

The team started working in rural areas of South India, supporting grassroots organisations, especially the disability and development organisation and built a capacity to provide them with devices. 

“We realised that women with disabilities were not taking help as the technicians were male. So we trained these women and more to take care of themselves,” explains Albina. 

In 1997, they trained 14 girls with disabilities to make these devices. Most often, women made a livelihood by weaving baskets, making candles or binding books. MI gave them a chance to opt for a new vocation. 

Albina adds, “This meant that we need to have professionals to conduct these workshops. We needed to start long-term training programmes so that these products can be delivered to the needy. We started that in 2001 where we offered courses in prosthetics and orthotics. The time they spend with us also includes practical training.” Most of the students come from within the country and from low-income countries. 

Mobility India was the only institute in Bengaluru to start a training programme like this and to have international recognition of training programmes. 

In 1990, they started an office in Kolkata to reach out to North and Northeastern states. 

The team also wanted to make these equipments as per one’s requirement.  Albina says, “Most of them cannot go to the temple or someone’s house without removing their sandals. We help customise these prosthetics so that they don’t have to minimise their social interaction. Barefoot caliper is highly beneficial to those living in rural areas.” 

Achievements over the years

In 2000, Mobility India was given the name ‘Millennium Building on Disability’. The institute was also recognised by the Government of India. They received a National Award for ‘Outstanding Work in the Creation of Barrier-Free Environment for Persons with Disabilities’. The state government also recognised MI as the best NGO.

In 1999, they started a CSR programme to help the slums in the city. “We started supporting devices and therapy, but for people, this became their income of survival. This training gave them work opportunities and ensured that children with disabilities could go to school,” explains Albina. 

In rural areas, since there are only government schools available, the team ensured that they spread awareness and brought out schemes that would help include all children.

Fortunately, the school management and teachers were supportive of the idea as they are localities themselves. 

Future opportunities

From 2020, Mobility India will also offer a masters degree programme. 

“As for the students who are studying here and have graduated, the scope for job employment is very high. As you live longer, your functionality will decline, as well as your mobility. These trained professionals will come to your aid then,” says Albina. 

Many multinational companies and international agencies are in search for graduates who know physiotherapy, prosthetics and orthotics. You can even be employed by the government, in war-zone areas. 

Is the city accessible for the disabled?

“There are places that are accessible to people with disabilities but only very few. Even though our building is accessible to everyone, the road and the footpaths to reach till here is bad. Even the pillars that are placed between the footpath that is meant to stop two-wheelers is a hindrance for people on a wheelchair. There’s still a long way to go for the city to be friendly for those with a disability,” shares Albina, director of Mobility India. 

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